Edited and Proofread by KitKat
After Ji Xue left, Xue Wuyi stood by the window and pondered.
Xue Wuyi made this undercover trip to Liangzhou based on the premise that with Chang Zai Cang’s relationship with the Northern Warlord, he would definitely ask for Xiao Zhige’s help. He had personally come to Liangzhou in hope of making a deal with Xiao Zhige.
The Xi Wei Empire has been backing up in the corner in recent years. From the day the previous Emperor died, an undercurrent of unease has been surging in this seemingly peaceful kingdom.
The late emperor had been weak in health and had had only one son. When he passed on, the prince’s mother, who hailed from a powerful family, had been dissatisfied with him monopolizing control over the court. She had secretly urged the Empress Dowager time and again to meddle with the court’s affairs.
Furthermore, the several brothers of the late emperor had been amassing power, vying for the throne. Should something happen to the young prince, any of them could justly crown himself as king.
As such, the court was divided into distinctive parties, each with their own masters and ambitions. Although Xue Wuyi had managed to enlist half the officers over the years, he had not been able to make any progress with the remaining half.
For ten years, he had watched his lord grow into a teenager. However, under the propagandistic words of his mother and those with malicious intents, the child had gradually grown estranged from him.
With the current direction the Xi Wei Empire was heading in, the Xi Wei natives who had been oppressed for so long were bound to cause unrest. With this concern, Xue Wuyi had wanted to implement a set of reformed laws after deliberate consideration. But alas, after discussing it with his confidants, they were still lacking in resources and support to counter the strong opposition that they had anticipated.
A cool breeze blew past, causing Xue Wuyi to cough twice.
He then recalled the young man he had met today on the street.
Hands behind his back, Xue Wuyi closed his eyes and compared the youth’s face with the portrait in his possession – it was indeed almost identical.
The only difference was An Nuo’s face was more rounded and his eyes were soft. The person in the portrait had the same features but his eyes were more solemn.
One was like the luminous moon while the other was like the burning sun.
Xue Wuyi sighed as another one of the late king’s requests came to mind – a secret only inherited by Xi Wei’s Emperors, a legacy left behind by Xi Wei’s first Emperor, Xue Chang.
It was said that before he died, Xue Chang had hidden troves of treasures in an unknown location, this was all that anyone knew. At his deathbed, he had passed to his heir a portrait and instructed it to be passed on to succeeding generations. Should they one day find the person in the painting, they were to give him that scroll and tell him that Xue Chang had repaid his debt.
Xue Wuyi had no knowledge of the story behind this scroll but the late Emperor had entrusted him with this task.
This was a debt owed by Xue Chang, their ancestor and as his descendants, they had to repay it.
That said, the Xi Wei Empire was established hundreds of years ago. Even if he had wanted to repay this debt, the beneficiary would’ve been dead a long time ago.
At present, what Xue Wuyi lacked was gold and since he was not of the Xue bloodline, he placed little importance in returning the debt. What he wanted to uncover was the treasures hidden within the scroll.
He had studied the scroll many times but the painting itself held no secrets. He had put this matter aside but surprisingly, his trip to Liangzhou had yielded more than he expected. The young man’s features were so similar to the person in the painting that it could not have been a coincidence. He might hold a clue to finding those treasures.
Xue Wuyi grabbed the window railings and thought to himself: once he receives the results of the investigation, maybe he can take him back to Xi Wei to solve the mystery of the painting.
An Chang Qing arrived at Chang Zai Cang’s manor with the boy.
The child was wearing his outer robe unfittingly and his messy hair was covering half of his face, hiding his eyes which were looking around nervously.
Considering that he had been soaked in water for too long, An Chang Qing ordered a servant to warm him up with a hot bath and had the kitchen prepare ginger soup for him to ward off the flu.
The little boy listened to An Chang Qing’s arrangements obediently. After washing up and changing into a more fitted robe, he followed the servants to pay respects to An Chang Qing.
After dressing up, the child’s delicate features had become perceivable. Even the birthmark under his eye was not as glaring.
An Chang Qing pulled him closer and passed him the ginger soup. He then asked for his name and whether he had any other relatives. Although the child was still young, he was quite mature for his age. In fact, An Chang Qing believed that this child was actually very clever.
The child answered An Chang Qing’s questions with honesty, telling him his name and past experiences.
The child’s name was Yu Xiao. He used to live with his father in the mountains but later, his father had died due to a serious illness. Before he died, his father had told him to seek refuge with an acquaintance of his. At that time, he was too young and ignorant. After leaving the mountains and entering unfamiliar lands, he had been abducted and sold off.
Because he had pretended to be dumb, he had been passed from owner to owner until eventually, he was bought by the big man from before. The man initially wanted him to assist him with his street performances with the monkeys but after finding out that he was a good swimmer and could hold his breath for a long time underwater, he had come up with the idea of making him perform water acrobats in a water tank.
As he retold to this point, Yu Xiao was furious.
“He is not a decent person. He always frequented the gambling dens and when he returned after losing all his money, he beat up his wife and l.”
An Chang Qing shook his head and said, “It’s alright. I’ve reported him to the local magistrate. Whatever bad things he has done, he will be tried for it by tomorrow.”
Yu Xiao smiled brightly after hearing An Chang Qing’s words.
An Chang Qing then asked him, “Do you have anyone who can take you in? If you have nowhere to go, you can stay by my side and serve me.”
Since he had decided to help the child, he should see it through till the end. Yu Xiao was still too young to live on his own. If he sent him away, he would be abducted again and the same misfortune could be repeated. Thinking that it was not a big deal to feed another mouth in the manor, An Chang Qing thought that it was ideal to keep him by his side.
Hearing his words, Yu Xiao’s eyes widened. He nodded repeatedly and said without hesitation, “I’ll do it!”
He then copied the gestures the servants of the Chang Manor made and kneeled down to salute An Chang Qing.
“Yu Xiao is at your service!”
An Chang Qing smiled and pulled him up. He patted his head and said, “You don’t have to follow these formalities. There’s nothing to do these few days so you can rest for now.”
When Xiao Zhige came back after his discussion with Chang Zai Cang, he saw An Chang Qing speaking kindly to a child. His eyebrows were raised as he looked at little Yu Xiao.
“Where did he come from?”
An Chang Qing told him about how they had met on the streets.
“He’s too young and has nowhere else to go. I decided to let him stay with me.”
He then introduced Xiao Zhige to Yu Xiao, “This is the Northern Warlord. You can address him as Wangye.”
Seeing Xiao Zhige, Yu Xiao was instinctively scared. But thinking that he shouldn’t embarrass An Chang Qing, he picked up the courage, bowed and greeted him.
Xiao Zhige’s expression eased up a little. He told him to rise and come with them to have dinner.
Chang Zai Cang stared at the couple and felt his eyes hurt. He found an excuse and snuck out.
The next day, Xiao Zhige and Chang Zai Chang left to meet with the Xi Wei Empire at the border.
The junction separating Xi Wei and Liangzhou was divided by a range of continuous mountains which rarely had many travelers. Only once in a while would a merchant bring goods to exchange between the two cities.
However, at this moment, two factions had set up camps and surrounded it with their own troops.
Xiao Zhige stepped into the frontline and spoke imposingly, “Is the person in charge willing to negotiate?”
After his words were heard, a man carrying a large blade on his back strode out slowly. He donned a plain black garment and had his hair randomly tied back. With a high forehead and eyes like an eagle, he gave off a commandeering aura despite his shabby appearance.
He went forward, cupped his hands and said, “Shang Que. I’ve long heard of the Northern Warlord’s reputation.”
“Likewise.” Xiao Zhige responded politely.
Since neither of them were men of many words, Xiao Zhige went straight to the point, “Where can we talk in private?”
“My master would like to meet with Wangye. Please come with me.”
With his weapon in hand, Xiao Zhige fearlessly followed Shang Que into the Xi Wei camp.
Inside, Xue Wuyi was waiting for him.
Xiao Zhige’s eyebrows were slightly raised at the sight of Xue Wuyi.
Xue Wuyi studied him before stepping forward and said with a smile, “I’ve been looking forward to meeting Wangye, the Da Ye Empire’s mighty God of War.”
Xiao Zhige was not a person of courtly manners. He said bluntly, “It’s quite a drastic measure to disturb the Great Regent of Xi Wei over two jade mines, isn’t it?”
Xue Wuyi’s smile widened, “Wangye is indeed wise. I came here in hope of doing business with Wangye.”
Xiao Zhige thought through and immediately understood. Xue Wuyi competing for the mines was only a ruse for him to meet with Xiao Zhige. As for the reason, Xiao Zhige couldn’t figure it out.
Xue Wuyi was well known for being a smiling fox. He was highly resourceful and business oriented, he would never let anyone take advantage of him. Now that he had personally come to Xiao Zhige, he must have something to ask of him.
Xiao Zhige narrowed his eyes and said, “We’ll discuss other matters after dealing with issues involving the mines.”
The situation with the two jade mines was a little controversial. A larger area of it stood on Xi Wei soil compared to Liangzhou. However, they were the ones to discover the mines and therefore, Xiao Zhige was unwilling to back down.
“Xi Wei is a small nation. We are not wealthy like Da Ye and frankly speaking, without trading treaties, a commodity like jade is not marketable to us.”
Xue Wuyi observed Xiao Zhige’s expression and continued, “If Wangye wants the mines, I’ll be happy to let you have them.”
Xiao Zhige looked back at him with piercing eyes, “And the condition?”
Xue Wuyi smiled, “This is the business that I wanted to discuss with Wangye.”
He glanced at Shang Que who immediately understood. He went out of the tent and guarded the entrance.
Xue Wuyi lowered his voice and said, “I will exchange these two mines for an oath from Wangye.”
“Within two years, if Xi Wei does not provoke Da Ye, Wangye cannot deploy troops to Xi Wei.”
Xiao Zhige interjected, “Not to mention that Da Ye and Xi Wei do not have trifles, even if I promised you, it is not entirely up to me to make that decision for Da Ye.”
Xue Wuyi shook his head, “This might be true for today but not necessarily so in the future. One day when Wangye can make decisions for Da Ye, you just have to remember this oath.”
Xiao Zhige looked at him and said, “Only two jade mines in exchange for such an oath, you seemed to have overestimated them.”
Xue Wuyi smiled bitterly, “I have indeed but I’m at the end of my rope. That said, Xi Wei is not strong enough to pose a threat to Wangye.”
“This might be true for today but not necessarily so in the future.” Xiao Zhige used the same words Xue Wuyi had said to him. “Besides, Xi Wei still has you as the Regent. How could you expect me to undermine its threat?”
And so, they had reached an impasse.
Xue Wuyi watched Xiao Zhige walk away with an unclear expression on his face.
“Why beg him? I’m more than capable of fighting him,” Shang Que spoke disgruntledly through the door.
“It’s not that you can’t fight him, it’s Xi Wei that cannot afford to fight him.” Xue Wuyi closed his eyes and waved his hand, “You can leave now. Call for Ji Xue.”
Shang Que stared at him briefly before taking off.
When no one else was left in the tent, Xue Wuyi curled his back and began coughing violently. His backbone protruded through his clothes with each cough.
When Ji Xue arrived, Xue Wuyi had wiped off the blood on his lips. He sat on the head chair and took a sip of tea.
“Did you manage to find anything?”
“Yes,” Ji Xue handed him a letter.
After reading the letter, Xue Wuyi finally showed a smile, “Any news from Zaiguo?”
“Everything is as Your Highness expected. The portrait in the manor has been stolen. The Empress Dowager had secretly sent envoys to bring the portrait out of Zaiguo. They seem to be heading for Yejing.”
“What a bunch of fools.” Xue Wuyi’s eyes had turned cold. In order to overthrow him, they were even willing to trade the secrets of the treasure passed down from the first Emperor with Da Ye. How hopelessly foolish.
“Should we chase and kill the envoy?” Ji Xue asked.
Xue Wuyi smiled as he touched the letter in his hand. In it was the information his confidants had found out about An Nuo. He would never have imagined that the An Nuo he had met by chance on the streets turned out to be the Wangfei of the Northern Warlord.
It was like being handed a pillow when needing to sleep.
“Deliver this news to the Northern Warlord along with the portrait.”
From the letter, he knew that the Northern Warlord treasured his Wangfei above all else. Hopefully this deed was enough to shift Xiao Zhige’s decision.
Ji Xue should be heading out on Xue Wuyi’s order but she stayed and looked at him anxiously, “Is Your Highness coughing up blood again? It’s been some time since you last took your medicine.”
Xue Wuyi sipped his tea as though Ji Xue’s words were not referring to him, “That medicine is too bitter. And taking it will make my body reek of herbs. I should die soon so those people in Zaiguo can rest their hearts.”
Ju Xie’s expression turned sullen, “Your Highness!”
Xue Wuyi waved his hand nonchalantly, “Go on. I won’t die so easily.”